What Was That


Independent release, 2011


REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


Bernice is primarily led by Toronto-based artist Robin Dann. Although she has released a trickle of material every now and then since her debut, 2011’s What Was That remains the only full length album by the band to date. Bernice’s elegant and dreamy indie pop music is unique, containing aspects of baroque pop with unmistakable jazz and R&B influences.

Dann’s words and her singing are like a well-written and eloquently read poem – you know there is meaning in the convolutedly knitted words. And even if you do not understand the words, there is a certain sophistication and beauty in how they are delivered and how they sound that makes them relatable. Her crooning jazzy vocals – best exemplified on the album’s most musically bare cuts, “Snowbear” and “Don’t” – are soft and laidback without sounding shy. Her unassuming singing never gets awkward. Take the super-weird and eerie album closer “Don’t Think About It,” for instance, which is kept interesting throughout the nearly nine minute run-time, mostly by Dann’s spooky voice.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

On What Was That, Dann and her talented cohort of musicians (consisting of jazz drummer Nico Dann, who has played and recorded with the likes of tUnE-yArDs; jazz bassist Daniel Fortin, who has worked with Serena Ryder amongst other artists; and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist and album co-producer Thom Gill, who is a brilliant and eclectic singer/songwriter himself) create this simple yet graceful and charming indie pop album that is beautifully arranged with just the right amount of surprises.

Highlights “Rêve Général” and “How To Be French” are the smoothest and most soulful tracks on this album, both driven by chilled-out but crisply played jazzy drumming. The unexpected bursts of guitar distortion on “Rêve Général” that disrupt the song’s gentle vibe are just the kind of tasteful rebellion that’s found unobtrusively throughout the album. For example, it is hard to see beyond the affable exterior of “How To Be French” and realize that the theme of the song, that of being an outsider, is not quite a sanguine one.

On the other album highlights, Dann and her band take the overarching soulful jazzy atmosphere of the album and take it to crazy places where the influences are not so apparent. “Pacemaker” and “Forgiven” are playfully quirky, finding Dann bringing out her inner Björk and executing oddball goofiness in a classy and intelligent musical fashion. “New Bodies,” on the other hand, is tranquil. It has a cool electronica vibe, while the jazzy inflections in Dann’s singing add coziness and warmth to the song.

It is pretty clear than Dann and her band have put a lot into this record. The result is exceptional, as it should be.

Rating: A-

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